So what’s behind this movement toward universities and other educational institutions offering courses in brewing and the management of breweries? For Julia Herz, it’s all about meeting the demands of more and more Americans to learn the art and science of making pale ales and stouts. “The demand for education on beer and craft beer is through the roof right now,” says Herz, who is craft-beer program ?director at the Boulder, Colo.–based Brewers Association, a trade group. “I kind of like to say that these are historic beer times, and with that, you have an ever-?expanding quest among beer lovers for knowledge. In the last few years particularly, that desire for knowledge has created the need and demand for more structured programs.”
In other words, the increasing popularity of home ?brewing and craft brewers like New Belgium Brewing (the makers of Fat Tire Amber Ale) and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has put beermaking on the radar of lots of people, including students headed to college. But there’s also a more straightforward economic explanation to this growing demand for education in brewing and the business of beer: the explosion in popularity of small-craft ?brewers, brewpubs and microbreweries. According to the Brewers Association, which labels itself the “voice for craft brewers,” sales in the craft-brewing industry as a whole grew by more than 12 percent, to around $7.6 billion, in 2010 at a time when overall U.S. beer sales were down. In 1980, there were just eight craft brewers in the United States, a number that increased to 537 by 1994 and is now somewhere around 1,900, the highest number of breweries in operation since the late 1800s. Even though the makers of light American lager like ?Anheuser-Busch still dominate the market in terms of overall sales — craft brewers accounted for 5 percent of the $7.6 billion in total sales in 2010 — the rapidly expanding number of smaller operations accounts for an estimated 100,000 jobs.
And as it turns out, there are plenty of people who want to fill those jobs or potentially create more by opening their own brewery. “It has excitement and variety, and if you think of working in the industry, even though Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors occupy 85 percent of the market, craft breweries provide 50 percent of the jobs because there are so many breweries,” says Tom Shellhammer, a professor who heads up the brewing curriculum at Oregon State University. Shellhammer notes that in certain parts of the country, like Portland, Ore., and Seattle, craft brewers account for as much as one-third of all beer sales and have a very high profile. “In Oregon, that is all they see as kids growing up. Students find it appealing and romantic,” he says.
Besides teaching the hard science and complex engineering that go into producing the sort of pints that have helped craft brewing flourish even in a down economy, Shellhammer says he has another role. “Part of my job is to provide a reality check,” says the professor, who notes that there are nearly 200 students currently enrolled in the food-science program, nearly half of them on the fermentation track, which includes brewing. “Craft brewing is hard physical work, and it’s not typically well-paying work,” says Shellhammer, who says that working at a small brewery straight out of college can mean more shoveling hops and hauling and labeling bottles than actual brewing. By contrast, Shellhammer says that students of his who have gone on to work for one of the large brewing companies can earn good salaries and have plenty of room for advancement. “If you have your eyes on being the top guy at New Belgium, you have a long wait,” he says. “To be a top guy at Anheuser-Busch doesn’t take as long — 20 years or less — and you can be in charge of a huge brewery of 7 or 10 million barrels.”